New poll gives Ken hope

Boris just two points ahead of Ken in first YouGov poll on mayoral race.

Don't write off Red Ken just yet. The first YouGov poll on the London mayoral race puts Boris ahead on first preferences by just two points (46 per cent). There are still other candidates to come, not least from the Greens and the Lib Dems, who could cut into Ken's vote ("Liberal Democrat candidate" is on 4 per cent and "some other candidate" is on 7 per cent), but this poll will reassure Labour officials rattled by an earlier ComRes survey that put Boris nine points ahead.

The significant support for Ken suggests that his age (he will turn 67 in June 2012) and his political baggage aren't necessarily barriers to his re-election. The poll also found that 56 per cent of voters approve of his time in office and that Ken is seen as more competent (52 per cent to 45 per cent) and in touch (44 per cent to 40 per cent) than Boris.

There is still plenty of ground to make up: in a straight contest between the pair, Boris would beat Ken by 46 per cent to 41 per cent, and 58 per cent of voters approve of his record. But this poll provides the Livingstone campaign with plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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